Mailbag: Laird, Cano, Waivers, PitchFX

Another week has gone by, so it’s time for another mailbag. This week we’re going to talk about Brandon Laird and his future role with the Yankees, the great Robbie Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia debate, replacing the … ugh … Core Four (hate that term, why do we have to come up with nicknames for everything?), waiver trades, and PitchFX. If you want to send in a question, and I highly encourage you to do so, just use the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Kevin asks: If the Yankees can get Brandon Laird to fake it in the corner outfield spots, could he become Eric Hinske 2.0 for the team?

There’s two big differences between Laird and Hinske. The first one is obvious; Laird’s a righthanded batter, Hinske’s a lefty. It might not sound like much but it is significant, especially when he would be calling the New Stadium home. Being a lefty batter opens up more possibilities for platoon situations and matchups and all that. The right side of a platoon always gets the shaft, that guy gets about a third of the playing time or so. So right off the bat, Laird’s at a disadvantage.

The other difference between the two is plate discipline. Laird’s career high in walks is 40, which he set with Low-A Charleston in 2008. He’s at 38 right now, so he’ll assuredly eclipse that total this season. Meanwhile, Hinske never walked fewer than 40 times in his minor league career, and he did that as a 20-year-old playing 74 games in a short season league. Hinske’s career minor league IsoD (Isolated Discipline, it’s just OBP minus AVG and tell us how much a batter gets on base on something other than hitss) is .095, Laird’s is .058.

Remember, plate discipline doesn’t just mean taking walks, in fact that’s just a byproduct. The real advantage of being disciplined at the plate is getting in favorable counts and better pitches to hit, because a hit is always better than a walk. Hinske has a significant advantage in that department compared to Laird, who is known for his power, not necessarily his eye.

Getting back to the question, yeah, I think Laird can be some kind of super sub for the Yankees, filling in at the four corner spots. How valuable is that though, when he’ll get maybe two starts a week? If that’s his ultimate ceiling with the Yanks, which is very possible considering the players entrenched in those spots in the big leagues, then his biggest value to the team is as a trade chip. Don’t keep him around to come off the bench, trade him while his stock is high and maximize the asset.

Steve O. asks: In my conversation with Angelo the other day about Cano vs. Pedroia, it got me thinking that although Pedroia benefits a lot from Fenway, he is still an outstanding player. My question is: considering all factors including offense, defense, age, contract, etc, who would you rather have: Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia (the latest injury notwithstanding)? I would stick with Cano, but the gap between the two players isn’t as big as some people make it seem. Thanks guys. Excellent job with the mailbag.

Well, age isn’t much of a factor here, just to get it out of the way. Cano is ten months older, which isn’t all that significant. I wouldn’t consider that a dealbreaker or anything.

Obviously they’re different players offensively. Cano is a super high batting average/over the fence power guy, Pedroia is more of an on-base/gap power guy. It’s absolutely true that Pedroia benefits from Fenway Park (career .385 wOBA at homer, .341 on the road) while Cano hits wherever you stick him (.353 at home, .356 on the road). I’d feel more confident about the Yanks’ second baseman going forward offensively.

It’s not all that close on defense, however. Cano’s career UZR at second is -30.5, Pedroia’s is +24.6. Robbie has definitely improved over the last few years, and the numbers bear that out, but he’s still not on Pedroia’s level. Is it enough of a difference to make up the gap in offense? No probably not, because you can’t make the other team hit the ball to second. You can guarantee a player three plate appearances per game though.

Pedroia is signed for the next four years at a total of $33.5M while Cano was/will be paid $54M over that same chunk of his career, though that would require a pair of rather expensive options to be picked up by the Yanks in 2012 and 2013. It’s not fair to compare the contracts since each player signed their extension at different points of their career and in different economic climates. Obviously Pedroia’s a better bang for the buck, no disputing that.

I think that through their prime seasons, basically age 27-32 or so, they could both average around 5.0 WAR per season, perhaps a bit more. I’d feel safer with Cano though, since the game comes much more naturally to him. You don’t have to worry about him throwing out his back with a giant from the heels swing. They’re both excellent, excellent players and I would happily take either on my team, I just feel more comfortable with Cano going forward. Perhaps that’s my bias, but too bad, it’s my site and you asked.

Corey asks: Do you think we’ll ever see a “Core Four” that has meant so much to the Yankees in our lifetime?

I do not. We’re talking about a Hall of Fame shortstop, a borderline Hall of Fame catcher, a borderline Hall of Fame starting pitcher, and the greatest reliever to ever live. What they’ve meant to the team, both on the field and off it, is something that I can’t ever see being replicated. We’ll see great cores in the future, no doubt, but nothing like that. Hell, Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes is a rather fantastic “Core Four” as well, and we’re still leaving out Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

But those four guys doing what they did for that long and at those positions … I can’t ever see it being done again. If Brian Cashman or any future GM tries to replicate that success, he’s wasting his time. We’re talking about a monumental amount of luck for four players of that caliber to come up with the same team at the same time.

Anonymous asks: Could you explain the process of waiver trades?

After July 31st, any player on a 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded. Minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster are home free. These trade waivers are completely revocable, meaning if another team claims a player, his original team can pull him back and keep him with no consequence. You can put up to seven players on waivers per day, and every team will put basically their entire roster on waivers in August. Part of it is to hide players. If the Yanks are interested in dealing say, Brett Gardner, and his name popped up on the waive wire with six other Yankees, no one will figure out what’s up.

Anyway, once a player goes on waivers, one of two things happens: he either gets claimed, or he goes unclaimed. If he goes unclaimed, the team is free to trade him to any other team out there. If he’s claimed, then they can only trade him to the team that claims him, that’s it. If they try to put the player through waivers again, they are irrevocable, meaning the claiming team gets him (and his entire contract) no matter what. When the White Sox claimed Alex Rios last year, the Jays could only trade him to Chicago, but they decided to let them take the player and the full $50M+ left on his contract instead. They also had the option to pull him back and keep him.

I’m terrible at explaining things, so here’s another primer that explains the process better than I did. That’s probably easier to understand. Just remember, a player has to be on the 40-man roster before Sept. 1st to be eligible for the postseason roster.

HyShai asks: Two questions: 1) Who does the pitch selection and location on Pitch Fx and Gameday, is it a person or computer? It seems near impossible to tell the location of a pitch unless you’re ¬†standing right there (with the angles of the cameras being off centered). How would a computer get the location correct?

This article explains it well, but basically it’s a series of cameras that take high speed photographs of the ball in flight, and those are used to calculate things like velocity, acceleration (or really, deceleration), spin angle, all of those nerdy physics’ properties. That can then be used to calculate trajectory, horizontal and vertical movement, break, etc., and then that is used to classify the pitches. There are mistakes, but not as many as you think. The classification has been improving each year as they work out the kinks as well.

I’m not sure how exactly the system determines the location of the ball out in space, but I assume it uses some kind of reference point and measures off that. MLB Advanced Media is responsible for collecting all the data, which you can find here.

2) It seems that a huge part of a pitcher’s success is how well he hides the ball in delivery (CC supposed to be great at this), and there is no method currently used to measure this, statwise. ¬†Is there something in development? Maybe measuring at how many feet the batter picks up the ball etc. Thanks.

Deception is definitely a big part of a pitcher’s success. The later a batter picks up the ball as it’s being pitched, the less likely he is to hit it. CC Sabathia is good at this because he has that little hesitation with his arm behind his body before he goes to the plate. J.A. Happ is another guy known for having a ton of deception in his delivery. Ivan Nova is on the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s known for having very little deception in his delivery, making it easier for batter to pick up the ball out of his hand.

I’m not sure how this could be measured statistically, but I’m sure someone has/will try. Perhaps you could look at each pitch individually and measure the amount of time between when the instant when you can clearly see the white of the ball in the pitcher’s hand and the instant when it crosses the plate or something. This would be very interesting to see, but the general rule of thumb is the longer you hide the ball, the better.

The Great What-If Scenario

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career homer on Wednesday, it was just another memorable moment in a career full of them. One of Alex’s most infamous moments came during Game Four of the 2007 not for his actions on the field, but off it. That’s when he (and agent Scott Boras) announced that he would be opting out of the final three years of his contract, allowing A-Rod to test the free agent waters. Coming off an MVP season in which he hit 54 homers and led the world with 9.2 WAR, it was a massive blow to a team looking old and on the way down.

We all know what happened next. A-Rod eventually re-signed with the Yanks, agreeing to the richest contract in baseball history, then went through a series of ups and downs en route to present day. But in the wake of his down season and all the talk about how the final seven years of his contract will play out, I got to thinking: what if A-Rod never opted out of his contract?

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Let’s assume for a second that Alex never opted out of his contract and everything went on to play out in exactly the same way that it did. The Yankees miss the playoffs in 2008, win the World Series in 2009, and do whatever they end up doing in 2010. Then after the season A-Rod’s original ten year, $252M contract with the Rangers expires, and he hits the open market as a free agent along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and some lesser Yanks. Let’s think about this for a second.

A-Rod would have won at least two MVP awards and one World Championship with the Yanks. He also would have dealt with the public humiliation of being ousted as a performance enhancing drug user plus numerous other off-the-field moments frowned upon in the court of public opinion. On top of all of that, we’re talking about a 35-year-old third baseman with hip trouble coming off what is on pace to be the worst full season of his career. Would the team be looking to re-sign him after the season, and if so at what cost? Perhaps the best way to look at this is to look at the alternatives.

The best of a bad free agent crop of third baseman is Adrian Beltre, who is having a simply fantastic season up in Boston. At 5.0 WAR he’s been one of the six most valuable position players in all of baseball this season, and will surely be looking for more than the one year, $10M player option he’ll inevitably decline to become a free agent. Another multi-year deal worth upwards of $12M per like the one he signed with the Mariners a few years back isn’t out of the question for the 31-year-old. Lesser free agent options include Jorge Cantu, Pedro Feliz, Mike Lowell, and Ty Wigginton.

We can’t know for sure who will be available in trades, but the Yankees are never afraid of going big game hunting. They would have the option of making a huge (and likely unsuccessful) play for Ryan Zimmerman, but more reasonable targets include Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mark Reynolds, Alex Gordon, and Jose Bautista. All have their pros and cons.

There’s also not much on the way internally. Ramiro Pena obviously can’t cut it as everyday player, and the other top candidates – Kevin Russo and Eduardo Nunez – are untested as regulars at the big league level. Brandon Laird was just promoted to Triple-A and is having a monster year, but at 22-years-old is he ready to go from his first Double-A at-bat to his first Major League at-bat in the span on 12 months? When is the last time the Yankees did something like that?

It’s worth mentioning the possibility of re-signing Jeter, moving him to third and acquiring another shortstop would exist. The free agent market is barren on that front (Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe represent the best of a bad lot), the trade market is uninspiring (Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew), and it’s the same story as above with the internal options. Clearly, there’s basically no way the Yankees would be able to replace A-Rod’s production this offseason unless they were to spend big on Beltre.

I’d like to get a discussion going in the comments about what everyone things the Yanks would do in this hypothetical world where Alex never opted out of his contract and was set to become a free agent after the season. Knowing what we know now, my guess is that the Yanks would look to bring him back at a reduced price, something like $13-15M a year for three or four years. Still enough to make him one of the highest paid players in the game, but more in line with his current production level. A-Rod’s unlikely to find that kind of money elsewhere, and hey, if he means all this stuff about loving his teammates and being happy to be with this organization, he’d take it.

Anyway, tell me what you think. The more I think about this, the more complex it seems to get.

Sanchez & Culver go big in GCL Yanks win

The Yankees have signed 30th rounder Zach Nuding to an above slot $265,000 bonus. He was a summer follow, impressing the Yanks by posting a 28-8 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .220 batting average in 28 innings for the North Texas Copperheads of the Texas Collegiate League. The righty stands 6-foot-4, 265 lbs. and has reportedly touched 96 in the past.

Meanwhile, Tim Redding’s a goner. He signed with the Samsung Lions of the Korean Professional Baseball League. It’s a big loss for Triple-A Scranton from a competitive standpoint, dude allowed just five runs and 30 baserunners in 43.1 innings spread across six outings last month. He’ll be replaced in the rotation by The Ghost of Kei Igawa.

And finally, make sure you check out Steve’s profile of Shaeffer Hall at TYU, and Josh Norris’ talk with roving catching coordinator Julio Mosquera.

Triple-A Scranton (5-0 loss to Pawtucket)
Kevin Russo, LF, Colin Curtis, CF & Eduardo Nunez, SS: all 1 for 4 – Russo & Curtis each K’ed once
Juan Miranda, 1B & Jorge Vazquez, DH: both 0 for 4 – Miranda K’ed once, JoVa twice
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 2 K – no contact kinda day
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4 – eight for 12 with two doubles & two homers in AA
Chad Huffman, RF: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Ivan Nova: 6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 7-3 GB/FB – 63 of 98 pitches were strikes (64.3%) … picked a runner off first
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 25 of his 40 pitches were strikes (62.5%) … he hit 95 on the gun

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Back on top

Hey now. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The Twins did the Yankees a big favor this afternoon, topping the Rays 8-6 in Tampa to split their four game set. It wasn’t easy though, Minnesota jumped out to a 6-0 lead before the Rays tied it up in the 8th inning thanks to a Jason Bartlett (!!!) grand slam. The Trop came back to bite the home team in the next half inning when Jason Kubel popped a ball up on the infield that got hung up in the catwalk and eventually fell in fair territory, allowing a run to score. Here’s the video. The win by Minnesota puts the Yankees back in sole possession of first place in the AL East by half a game, so the disaster of falling out of first lasted all of a day and a half. Something about not over-reacted during a 162 game season belongs here.

Anyway, here’s your open thread on this sweltering hot and humid evening in New York. Seriously, I went out to grab a bagel this morning, and decided I was better off staying inside in the air conditioning while having toast instead of making the two block walk in that humidity. But I digress. There’s a regional coverage game on MLB Network tonight; depending on where you live you’ll either get the Red Sox-Indians or Giants-Braves. Go nuts, talk about whatever you want.

Olney: Yanks considered Willie Harris before the deadline

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees considered pursuing Willie Harris before the trade deadline to fill their utility player spot. Harris can play all three outfield spots and fill in at third, but he has limited experience at short and second so he wasn’t a perfect fit. Plus Harris has been a shockingly bad hitter this season, with a .185/.284/.319 batting line (.281 wOBA) in 170 plate appearances. He did manage to post wOBA’s in the .340’s for the Nationals from 2008-2009, though.

As you can see, the market for a decent bench players is awful.

With Boston in town, resale ticket prices jump

Whenever the Red Sox come to Yankee Stadium in August, something special seems to happen. Last year, the two teams played an epic 15-inning affair that ended with an Alex Rodriguez blast off of Junichi Tazawa en route to a sweep. What will it be this weekend?

This year, the games have lost some of their immediacy. Boston comes to town in third place either six or seven games behind the Yankees, and the Red Sox are only hanging around the fringes of the pennant race. If they can’t take 3 of 4 from the Yankees this weekend, they’ll have a very tough climb to get back into the October picture. Still, the tickets are going like hotcakes.

Our partners at TiqIQ have put together the following graphic to show where ticket prices are today. Even though the Red Sox are hurting and limping along, this series’ average resale price is still 20 percent above season levels. Take a peek at the graphic below, and make sure to check out RAB Tickets for more pricing information and game needs.

WCBS 880 tops MLB cumulative radio ratings

Seemingly in spite of themselves, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are reeling in the listeners. Arbitron, the radio ratings board, has released listener totals for the first half of the baseball season, and more fans tune in for Yankees games than for any other team. According to their estimates, from April 4 to June 23, an average of 441,000 listen to the Bombers. That figure eclipses the second-place Mets by 72,500 fans per game. The Cubs, Tigers and Angels round out the top five.

As for market share, though, neither the Yankees nor the Mets can crack the top 15. In baseball’s target demographic — men between the ages of 25 and 54 — nearly 25 percent of Cincinnatians listening to the radio at that time tune into Reds games. Because millions of people live in New York radio, the lofty listener totals just can’t catch up.

For the Yankees, these high figures mean one thing: More money. Armed with more precise data than ever before, the Yankees and WCBS will be able to milk more money out of the team’s radio broadcasts. “As advertisers look to capitalize on this year’s pennant race, professional baseball on the radio delivers large numbers of listeners for every game,” Arbitron Sports Manager Chris Meinhardt said in a statement. “Arbitron’s Mid-Season PPM Radio Listening for Pro Baseball reports the average game audience for each team.”

Now, if only the team would do something about the quality of their radio announcers. (A tip o’ the hat to Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk.)